September 23, 2013
The 1,400 freshmen at Southern Methodist University now have been in class long enough for first-year anxieties to calm down some. This year’s freshmen actually may have less reason for the jitters, given that their average SAT score is 1302.
That’s up — noticeably — from the 1144 SAT average for the 2000 freshman class.
The uptick is part of SMU’s sometimes-overlooked academic rise. The school also now has 96 endowed professorships, which represents about 13 percent of tenured faculty. Those 96 chairs are up from 62 endowed positions only five years ago. SMU wants to soon have 100 or more such chairs.
Of course, the campus also is home to the new George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes a museum, library and policy institute. The center has hosted several recent forums, including events involving SMU faculty.
The school, however, faces challenges in making sure students stay connected with one another and graduate on time. So SMU’s response includes making the campus a more vibrant place, and as part of that effort, it will debut 11 residential commons next fall. SMU President Gerald Turner envisions the commons becoming part of each student’s identity. Freshmen and sophomores must live in a commons dorm. Some faculty will reside there, too. In short, they will live and learn together.
Each of these areas — student achievement, faculty development and the campus experience — are central to the school’s Second Century fundraising campaign. SMU officials recently increased the goal from $750 million to $1 billion, making the school one of only 34 private universities ever to undertake a billion-dollar campaign.
Dallas will benefit if the school raises the entire amount. Partnerships with the city can increase as SMU expands its faculty and research. A good template is how SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development has worked with the Dallas school district to improve education in West Dallas.
Dallas high school students also could benefit from the scholarship dollars the school wants to raise. SMU has brought in $180 million in scholarships, but that is short of the $200 million goal.
Scholarship funds can be hard to secure, especially when contributors want to donate in such a way that they can put their name on a building. But scholarship funds are critical as SMU actively diversifies its enrollment. The campus has been seen as an outpost of well-heeled, well-connected families. But the truth is, SMU’s enrollment today is 25 percent minority, up sharply from even a decade ago. Financial aid will let SMU keep broadening its reach.
SMU wants to continue evolving into, as its motto proclaims, a school of world changers. Funds for scholarships can help make that a reality.
By the numbers
1302 Average SAT score for this year’s freshman class
11,000 Number of undergraduate and graduate students
25 Percentage of students from minority families
96 Number of endowed professorships
$180 million Amount SMU recently has raised for scholarships
$200 million Total SMU scholarship goal
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